by Den Valdron
IN THE POSSESSION OF GYAL BOHURS
The light of day was biting and unpleasant, I could feel it harsh and hurtful against my eyelids and tried to turn my face away. I was still in chains, I realized that I laid on a framework of some sort, straps of leather laced between metal poles. It bounced and jostled uncomfortably. An intruding hand crept between my leg.
Should I ignore it? Surely, if I opened my eyes, the world would not improve. On the other hand, it hardly seemed likely that it could get worse. The hand grew bolder. I opened my eyes, and stared. It was a man at least, but wild haired, gap toothed, his nose had been smashed giving him a cross eyed look, and a livid scar ran down one side of his face. His body was scrawny, barely skin and bones. Like me, he wore an iron collar. He grinned at me.
“That's it girl,” he said, “you're a beauty all right. Stick with me, and I'll make sure you come out of this all right.”
Reflexively, I kicked him in the face.
“Hands to yourself. Not unless you've bought a ticket,” I snapped, reflexively.
Undaunted, the rubbed the side of his jaw, spat out another tooth, and grinned. It seemed to me that underneath all that grime and dirt, he was not light skinned as I was, but rather, one of the red skinned invaders. If so, he had fallen in harsh company.
“You should be nice to me, girl,” he laughed, “I can be very helpful to you.”
“You're not the first Producer who has made that promise. If you're serious, talk to my agent.”
But my agent was dead, I remembered, crushed under a fallen chunk of the dome, and I was out here in empty dead world beyond my home.
I looked around. I was on a sort of sledge pulled by what appeared to be a giant walking bird. The horn-headed monsters sat upon the bird. On the sledge with me, were a dozen or more chained souls, men and women, all of them looking old and worn. Ahead and behind us were a long line of birds, each pulling its sled, some loaded down with chained victims, others laden with various other things.
How long had I been unconscious? Had the horn headed monsters overcome the red warriors. Had they been the true masters all along?
“What are those creatures,” I asked the filthy masher.
“You don't know?” he giggled. “They've got you right enough. You and me both. But I know all about them. Stick close to me girl, and Fank Huzar keep you safe from them.”
“What are they?”
“They're eggs, girly,” he cackled. “Real bad eggs! And they won't be nearly as nice to a pretty girly like you as I will be.”
“You are a red man,” I said. “Most of the people in chains are red.”
I could spot only a few white skins, most of them older or injured.
“You have sharp eyes, girly,” he said, “sharp, sharp eyes. But not sharp enough to keep you out of chains. We're slaves, we're all slaves, just like you!”
“I'm no slave,” I snapped hotly.
“Ah,” he said, “then you must be a Princess of Helium! Have you come here to enjoy a bit of the sunshine? Did I disturb your beauty rest?”
“But...” I said, “I thought the red men and horned heads were allies, they seemed to work together as.... as.....” As they murdered and raped.
“Not all red men are alike,” he laughed. “I'm a man of Hastor. These Orgus, the bad eggs, they fight for any who pays them... With gold or slaves. They prefer slaves.”
“Gold?” I asked.
“They prefer slaves,” he grinned. “Especially pretty ones like you. But I know how to talk to them. You should be nice to me, and I'll protect you.”
“What do they do with slaves,” I asked.
“What does anyone do with slaves?” He said. “Work them, use them, chain them.”
He paused thoughtfully.
“I hear they eat them.”
“I hear that. Perhaps they rape them. They have few of their own females, I have heard.”
I didn't like the sound of that.
Just then, one of the horned headed demons came riding up, and lashed our sled with his whip.
“No noise,” he roared, to the screams of pain and anguish that rose from the tip of his lash.
“It's her fault,” the gap toothed wretch shrieked, “she started it, she started it!”
Typical, I thought. Big promises and single minded lust, but at the first sign of trouble, he dumps all the blame on the talent. He had a fine career as a producer.
“You!” The horn head said. I looked around. No, he was staring at me.
“You're the strangely dressed one we caught in the dark,” he said.
I glanced down. I was still wearing the Princess Asutra costume, now torn and dirty. The costume department would kill me... If any of them were alive.
“That wasn't me,” I said.
He unhooked my chain from the sled, and dragged me off.
“Really,” I cried, “you're thinking of someone else.”
But to no avail, I was dragged off the sled, stumbling to my feet, I desperately tried to keep up with the horned demon on his bird creature, as they trotted up to the head of the line. A heavy set chieftain wearing a golden torc. Behind him sat a similar creature, smaller and shapelier, even the tusks were more graceful in curve.
“Is this the one?” he asked.
“Yes, this is the one we captured in the bad country.”
He nodded thoughtfully.
“What is your name, girl,” the leader asked.
“Tay See Lors,” I answered, “...Kam Asutra.”
“That's a lot of name for such a little creature,” he said thoughtfully. “How is it that you were alone? What were you doing out there in the dark? Trying to get eaten by a Banth?”
What's a Banth, I wondered. I thought quickly. There were dangerous things in the dark? Why would anyone be alone? They wouldn't, or so he would suspect.
“I was separated,” I said, and took the plunge, “from my soldiers, I was finding my way back, when your man found me.”
“Your soldiers?” He rumbled thoughtfully. “How many?”
“Dozens....” I replied quickly. No! More! “Hundreds! In dozens of squads!”
The big creature glanced around at the hills of jumbled rocks that surrounded the path.
“Hundreds you say?” He said. “And where are they?”
“They're watching us now.”
“Hmmm....” he grunted. “And who are you, that your hundreds of warriors should follow us so carefully.”
I tried to strike a dramatic pose, hard to do considering that I was being dragged by the neck and had to trot to keep up with the steady walk of the giant birds.
“I am the Princess Asutra,” I announced. “And it will be the death of you all, should you harm one hair on my head.”
He held up his hand, and the caravan came to a stop. For a moment, he did not reply. Instead he stared down at me.
“Interesting,” he said, “that a Princess should accompany her soldiers wearing a prisoners collar of Diome.”
“Oh that,” I said with false confidence, “it's complicated.”
“Quite a long story.”
“I have time.”
“You're sure it's not a bother?”
“We await your pleasure.”
“Well,” I said, “er... Obviously, I am a Princess.”
“As you say.”
“So why would I be wearing a slave collar.... Unless I was pretending.”
“Pretending? To be a Princess.”
“No! Pretending to be a prisoner.”
“Ah... My mistake.”
“Yes, my men and I.... I put this collar on... so I could pretend.”
“To be a prisoner?”
“Yes!” I said, inspiration coming together, “I was pretending to be a prisoner so I could infiltrate the camp.”
“Hmmm,” he said, “you refer to the Diome camp outside the city, where they are assembling their prisoners?”
“Yes,” I said, “exactly. I was infiltrating the camp, we were going to attack and free the prisoners.”
That was exactly it: Straight out of Pors and Lotho Go to the Dungeons, which had always been my favourite Pors and Lotho comedy, though most people preferred Pors and Lotho Go to the Harem, or Pors and Lotho Go to Sea. I could do this, I thought. I could talk my way to freedom.
“And you got lost on the way?”
“Interesting,” he rumbled. “Of course, the prisoners camp is on the other side of the city from where you were found.”
“I guess I was very lost.”
Abruptly, he bellowed with laughter. The other nearby horned demons looked around and stared at him nervously.
“Little Princess,” he said, “I do not believe a word. But if your story is not true.... Well, it ought to be! I am Gyal Bohurs, 9th Jed of the Orgus. You will ride with me to the Great Jeddak's Council, doubtless you will entertain me. And it will keep you out of trouble.”
He reached down and pulled me up onto the giant bird, setting me in place behind him and his companion.
“My men really are all around us,” I insisted.
“Perhaps,” he said, “perhaps not. But if they are, then they will not risk shooting me, with you so close. And they will not risk attacking us, if you have a knife at your throat.”
As if on cue, the small tusked one, the female, slid a slender curved dagger from her sheath and slipped it under my chin. I swallowed.
“Jin Dra, is twitchy,” he warned me. “For your sake, let us hope that no accidents startle her. We shall arrive at the Temple of Skulls before too long, and there, your fate shall be sealed!”
He began to laugh again. I was thinking, I could get tired of that laughter. The rest of the journey passed without event. Indeed, I can say it was the pleasantest three days I ever spent with a knife at my throat.
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